The Politics of Curly Hair

I tend to only get my hair cut once a year, partly due to lack of funds and partly because I’m lazy. So, I made an appointment for my “yearly” cut a few days ago, and they got me in yesterday.

I had been to this particular hair salon the year before, but saw a different stylist. I enjoyed the simple cut they gave me last year, so I knew it would be a good fit. I walked in there, feeling like my curls looked so scraggly and gross (probably because it had been a year since my hair had been cut), and the whole time the woman was cutting my hair, she gave me shit for not getting in sooner. I laughed it off, but really, dude? I’m a fucking grad student—I don’t have 50 to 60 dollars to spare that often, and if I do, I’m not going to spend it at a hair salon most likely. Anyway, besides the stylist constantly berating me about how long ago my last cut had been, I was enjoying the experience.

Then it happened.

Before I could say anything, she had begun styling my hair straight . Last year, the other stylist asked me, “Would you like your hair styled straight or curly?” I replied, “Curly—that’s how I wear it.” The questioned seemed foreign to me. This time, however, I was not asked. I was not given the choice. It was just assumed that, because I have naturally curly hair I would want it straightened. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy a change once in a while, so straight hair is exciting to me; I just didn’t appreciate the absence of choice.

This is all quite problematic, because I feel, especially in American society, that the media tells us straight hair = beautiful , curly hair = unattractive .

For example, in any makeover show, if the woman has curly hair to start, the “makeover” will involved straightening her curls. Straight hair is looked at as normative, sexy, and mature, while curly hair is seen as the laughable, unruly baby. I get super frustrated when I see famous women straighten their once beloved curls, like Keri Russell (of Felicity), for example. I mean, her curls were big and beautiful on that show and then she received Hollywood stardom and her hair became straightened. What are we telling curly-haired girls? I remember growing up and feeling like no famous woman had hair like me and all I wanted was to have straight hair. To this day, I still deal with this internalized beauty standard (i.e. I often feel “sexier” and/or “prettier” when my hair is straight). This is fucked up. Why don’t I feel sexy and pretty and beautiful with my curly hair? What’s different? When my hair is kept curly, it’s as though society attempts to remove my sexuality. It’s as though curly-haired women are not sexualized as their straight-haired counterparts.

This brings to me another point: hair color hierarchy. Still, to this day, I am told through media images that “blondes have more fun” and that brunettes are just the “marrying kind.” Who wants that? The hair color hierarchy seems to look like this:





I remember being in Italy with a friend who looked stereotypically American: blue-eyed, blonde, fair skin. Whenever we went out, men always gawked at her “exoticness.” To them, I looked “normal” and not exciting. At stores, salespeople would always ask my blonde friend if she needed help with anything. They never asked me, though.

This all comes back to the feeling of inadequacy. Because the hair stylist assumed I wanted my curls straightened, she regurgitated the societal ideology of straight hair = beautiful . Will this ever stop? And will hair color hierarchy ever fade?

And though I enjoy this brief transformation, I take comfort in knowing that my curls will breathe once again, when I wash the “straight” out of them.

Curly hair 4 life.

Join the Conversation